“We just couldn’t make our target,” said Director of Fundraising Harry Snidely. “After some initial success, donations just dropped off to nothing. It was very strange. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The “Reach Out and Touch Someone” campaign was aimed at the several thousand people and a handful of dogs and cats who are part of the witness protection program. It was launched by the US Marshal Service with great fanfare in Washington, DC two years ago. The money raised was to go towards a university scholarship fund for children of witnesses.
“When we contacted our witnesses and their families they were all very excited by this campaign, our first ever. We recruited a campaign cabinet of witnesses, hired some new fundraisers, started a direct mail campaign and created a new donor wall here in the lobby of our headquarters. Then, things started going wrong,” said Snidely.
The chair of the campaign, Vito Spagetti, a former mafia enforcer turned state witness was killed by in a strange accident shortly after the official launch gala at a Washington, DC hotel. Then members of the campaign cabinet begun to disappear after their names and photos were published in a full-page ad in USA Today announcing the campaign. In all, eight of the 12 campaign members dropped off the radar.
“We had some commitment issues, obviously. It’s the same old story. You recruit volunteers, you announce them publically and then they just stop answering your phone calls and in some cases vanish off the Earth. You know, I just wish some of these people would have told us that they weren’t interested in doing all this work before we signed them up,” said Snidely.
Further troubles began after a laptop with the entire prospect list was stolen from one of the major gifts officers. The major gifts team reported that before the theft witnesses were very positive about the campaign. But shortly after the laptop incident, witnesses began not returning phone calls or answering their doors to campaign fundraisers. Early direct mail and email solicitations were also promising, but then dropped off after a post box the campaign used for donation replies was repeatedly vandalized.
“We know that our witnesses lead busy lives. But we didn’t understand just how busy they were. Their interest in the campaign just died off, and we couldn’t understand why. That’s why we were so optimistic about our social media campaign,” said Snidely.
The campaign created a leading-edge social media platform, including a Facebook page and Twitter feed. They encouraged witnesses to join their social media and participate in online discussions.
“We had at one time more than 500 fans on Facebook. We had a real cross-section of witnesses online with us, and for some strange reason a lot of other supporters from New Jersey. We did little contests about where people lived and what they were doing now – real alumni stuff. That seemed to work. But then, once again, interest waned and people began dropping off again. We were very disappointed,” said Snidely.
The campaign raised only $1 million and most of that came from planned gift donations.
“For some reason, we had the opposite of most campaigns. We raised more money from people putting a gift in their will for us than major donations or annual giving. It was very curious.”
Snidely says they will wait a year and try another campaign. This time they will hire better fundraising and communications consultants.
“The consultants we had on this campaign obviously gave us the wrong advice.”